Scott Jennings

Writing Words, LIKE A BOSS

Oh, hi, I have a blog still. (I’d feel more guilty about neglecting it if someone didn’t invent the RSS feed.)

Ryan Seabury, formerly of NetDevil and very small genitalia, found a really great way to hype his new social game company: inhale SCREW YOU GUYS I HATE MAKING MMOS BECAUSE THEY SUCK AND YOU SUCK AND DID I MENTION THE SUCKING THING BECAUSE TOTALLY THAT GOES IN THERE SOMEWHERE exhale.

So of course, I had to be grumpy and fight for the status quo, because I’m old and still worry about things like facts. Or something.

I simply realized there actually hadn’t been an “MMO game” to get out of for at least two, three years. It’s no longer a meaningful label. Point at any significant entertainment experience trending today, you won’t be able to find one without some kind of social feature layers and persistent aspects. No one cares if something is “single player” or “multi player” or “massively multiplayer” anymore. We have come to a point where the game concept trumps such insignificant bullet points, and global social connectivity is a given.

This is a vast oversimplification, unless you think Farmville is an MMO. Note: Farmville is not an MMO. Sorry, Terra Nova. I didn’t think someone who advertises themselves as an MMO designer would, you know, need this explained to them, but an MMO is specifically a game that derives its attraction from having hundreds of people interact in a persistent environment. Farmville fails this test because there isn’t any meaningful interpersonal interaction (aside from advertising for the greater glory of Zynga to all your friends, of course). World of Tanks, which I lately have been finding a lot of enjoyment in trying to blow up large tanks with smaller tanks and failing miserably, fails this test barely, in my opinion, because it’s essentially a session-based shooter with some character persistence – if you call World of Tanks an MMO, you have to call Modern Warfare 2 an MMO, too. And while Ryan may do so, I don’t. You don’t play MW2 for the levelling, you play it to shoot people in the face. Which, while multiplayer, isn’t massively multiplayer in that there are only so many people you can shoot in the face.

Now, at which point the number of face-shooting opportunities you have transcends multiplayer and moves into massively multiplayer is worthy of some discussion, and may have been the point Ryan was trying to make, except he then immediately descended into some random tangent about Megan Fox. I kind of get that, because she’s much cuter than a design doc, but it doesn’t really help with making your point. “Global social connectivity” isn’t a gameplay feature, it’s a buzzword. Bundling in a Facebook API does not magically make your game an MMO.

At NetDevil, we were never that interested in safe, cookie-cutter projects. We always tried to push some boundary, be it genre, technology, or creativity.  As a result, we watched business models completely vaporize and consumption styles totally shift during the course of each of our projects. With cycles this long and risky, you basically get one shot to succeed in half a decade. Ever been to Vegas?  Ever put all your weekend money on a single number in roulette? It’s kind of like that. Better have some backup bling to bet that big.

I think he’s trying to make a point here about game development being overly expensive and risk averse. I might be projecting, though, and really, I’m only guessing, especially because he then launches into:

Playing around is expensive when you lead teams of hundreds over many years. Playing on the same project, no matter how deep, for many years at a time, is exhausting creatively. I also felt I would like to ship more than four or five games in my entire career.

My long time business partners and founders of NetDevil, Scott Brown and Peter Grundy, reached similar conclusions. So we came together again to form END Games, with a new mission to turn our approaches upside down while leveraging all the expertise we’ve learned in a decade of making the most complex and technically demanding entertainment forms known to man.

So, basically, new company, leveraging synergy LIKE A BOSS. Got it.

And Ryan’s point four of three (no, really):

In fact I came to a realization the other day, almost everything I consume in entertainment comes at the recommendation of a friend or social network contact. I don’t channel surf anymore, I don’t bother reading game or movie reviews, I don’t look at the NY Times Bestseller list. Not saying that plenty of people don’t still do these things, but I don’t. It’s not as efficient or risk-free as letting people I know tell me what sucks and what rocks, and deciding based on what I know of their preferences.

Am I a consumer free at last from the tyranny of the retail distribution monoliths of the 20th century? Of course not. Somehow my social network is getting informed about new products and experiences, and the best of these make their way to me based on personal credibility. It seems like the marketing is just less direct and intrusive, albeit maybe a touch nefarious in some cases.

You still need to market, and the same people still own most of the important channels. Yes there’s a lot of noise-over-signal in the market place. But finally, after all these years of the industry moaning lack of innovation and sameness, there is noise! As a player, it’s like everyday you can find a new box of random toys to sift through and discover little gems in.

Noise is good. Don’t let the PR trend of the day scare you  Everyone pushing the message “it’s too hard for products to get noticed now” is selling something. Like a good dating network, artists are finding more compatible audiences quicker thanks to ubiquitous internet and technology and the nature of the idea of “network”. It may take time and patience and a little bit of money and sweat. Still, what a great opportunity to have some fun and try some ideas that would never clear production oversight in traditional development models!

So – to break this down: social networks changed everything for Ryan, Ryan never talked to his friends about movies before Facebook, Ryan figured out guerilla marketing, and Ryan’s new company is going to work on low budget Cow Clicker clones.

Our next title was built to answer the question “What is the simplest game construct possible?” We believe we found the bizarrely addictive answer in Click!, which will be playable on iOS devices as soon as Apple gets around to approving it, or maybe Android if they take too long.

OK, so I’ve been really snarkily harsh (you shouldn’t be surprised, it’s kind of what I do) and there are a couple of valid points lost in the free floating hype. Traditional game development is in an arms race of ever-escalating budgets that choke creativity, casual gaming does give the opportunity for game developers to Make! Money! Fast! (admittedly, usually by promptly selling their company to Zynga), and it is important for game developers on the edge of burnout to have private projects, game related or not, that they derive personal and professional satisfaction from.

Of course, just writing it as a paragraph like that doesn’t mean I can get Kotaku to hype my new social game company. LIKE A BOSS.

The Worst Case Scenario

Image: Ars Technica

SOE hasn’t had a good month already, and yesterday it got a whole lot worse.

The crisis at Sony deepened on Tuesday as it admitted that an extra 25 million customers who played games on its Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) PC games network have had their personal details stolen – and that they were taken before the theft of 77 million peoples’ details on the PlayStation Network (PSN).

The electronics giant said the names, addresses, emails, birth dates, phone numbers and other information from PC games customers were stolen from its servers as well as an “outdated database” from 2007 which contained details of around 23,400 people outside the US. That includes 10,700 direct debit records for customers in Austria, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain, Sony said.

The hack resulted in SOE’s games going dark – and they still are dark. Combined with Sony’s PSN network going down for what is no doubt frantic retooling, and you have easily the worst case scenario for a company that bases its income off running an online service. If you don’t have an online service, and can’t collect money for it… well, there’s really not much point, is there?

Writing as someone who also works on the periphery of similar issues – as best as I can tell, there is no silver bullet that wasn’t chambered, no best practices that SOE inexplicably ignored. The hell of it is, and what the wider world is discovering, is that online security is a dark art, and sometimes the black hats win. About the only mistake that SOE apparently made was leaving a years-outdated database of credit card information mistakenly accessible to the outside Internet – and it was enough of one to shut the company down.

The inevitable lawsuits are of course already spooling up, but the real cost for Sony will be in user confidence. Who will want to enter their credit card into Sony’s database? Even the most casual of consumers has heard of this. There’s no stuffing the genie back into that particular bottle. The barrier to cross for convincing a new player to enter payment information – already the highest hurdle for an online game company to achieve – is higher now because of this. Confidence has to be restored, and fast.

One way to do this would be for online gaming companies to embrace more often using data brokers such as Paypal. When I pay for a subscription to, say, Rift, Trion never sees my credit card number. I run through a Paypal gauntlet, am validated, give Trion permission to bill me, and there it is. At no time are my CC digits crossing the digital divide, allowing me to affect an air of smugness.

Until Paypal gets hacked.

This Is Not A Love Song

From the New York Times, apparently World of Warcraft players are reproducing.

Multiplayer games encourage such alliances. The beginner’s guide to World of Warcraft notes that you can go it alone, “but by going it alone, you won’t be able to master some of the game’s tougher challenges, you will likely take longer to reach the endgame, and you won’t have access to the game’s most powerful magical treasures.” Ms. Pringle thinks that is analogous to love.

Which makes arenas… no, even I can’t go there.

This Is Why You Should Never Ask Questions In My Earshot

Picture is unrelated.

From this:

Let’s imagine that you got to sit down with an MMO developer of your choice and ask him or her one direct question. The catch? That dev would have to give you a direct, straight answer without any hedging, PR-speak, or “no comments.

I doubt I’m the “MMO developer of your choice” but you know what? Right now, I’m the only one you got. So here’s my answers to those questions! And… I’m going to answer them ALL. Because I’m a mensch that way.

What is the release date/ time of SWTOR?

As soon as they can possibly do so. They kind of want to start collecting monies.

Are you really just making MMOs because they are cash cows?

No, we have other reasons. MMOs are the only type of game where you can see proto-societies form, where people cooperate on a global scale to achieve their goals – they’re the type of game where people really care. Who wouldn’t want to be involved in something people care about? Plus, I like killing things and looting them for +3 pants.

Are you using PR to incite an aggressive fan culture and flame wars in favor of your game?

Uh, no? Personally, I think “aggressive fan culture” is pretty supremely creepy?

Are you trying to use psychology to get us addicted or are you just trying to make good games hoping we get addicted anyway?

No, there is no secret conspiracy to use variable-ratio reinforcement to literally addict people to MMOs. Not only is that really ethically sketchy, it involves a level of advance planning which doesn’t really exist in the production environment of an in-development MMO, where planning usually revolves around DEAR GOD THE SERVERS HAVE LITERALLY CAUGHT ON FIRE.

I know this is really hard to believe for a lot of people, but MMOs are designed the way they are because someone wanted to play that game. Really. Everquest was designed by MUD players who wanted to make a MUD in 3D. Dark Age of Camelot was designed by Everquest players who wanted less punishing PvE and good PvP. World of Warcraft was designed by Everquest and DAOC players who wanted to play a better Everquest/DAOC. Rift was designed by World of Warcraft players who wanted to play a better World of Warcraft. And so on down the road.

Do you not understand how PVP works, or are you just sabotaging PVP to push your players to raiding?

We hate you. Literally. You. Back there. Yes, you.

Do you genuinely believe you can beat WoW at their own game, or are you simply pursuing the aims of investors?

A lot of game production involves keeping investors/publishers happy because people generally need to be paid to continue to pay for shelter, food, clothing, and the occasional Portal 2. Some people undoubtably believe they can beat WoW at their own game (they also are usually the ones who say things like “WoW developers are sabotaging PvP to push their players to raiding”). However most MMO developers just want to make a fun game that people will enjoy and pay for so that they can continue to pay for shelter, food, and clothing without having to resort to listening to a manager named Rob tell them their code is not elegant.

Do you actually play MMOs, or just develop them?

Very, very few MMO developers do not play MMOs. I mean, dear God, have you missed the part about servers literally being on fire? This is not something you take on as a casual vocation! It’s a field you enter, in large part, because you’re driven to do so.

If you had the choice, would you make a generic, boring but ultra-polished game, or a soulful, original, slightly flawed experience?

If *I* had the choice, I would make a wildly soulful, incredibly original, and deeply flawed experience. You know, like this! This may be why I am not given the choice, because people responsible for tens of millions of dollars in production costs do not generally like it when you tell them you’re going for arty/soulful/wistful/broken.

For the Allods team: Did you genuinely believe the cash shop mechanics were fair, or were you simply out to make a quick buck and ruin a brilliant game in the process?

Do you really expect someone to answer ‘yes, my goal was to ruin a brilliant game?’ I’m tempted to answer “YES, THIS WAS MY GOAL BECAUSE I HATE FUN” (I really do hate fun, and you. Yes you. In the back. Don’t think I don’t see you.)

For SOE: Why do you refuse to do something about Vanguard, when it’s one of the most amazing MMOs developed post-WoW? Do you just want to to die so you can beef up your own EQ franchise, or are you just too lazy/obsessed with money to actively develop it?

Questions like this are why you are not being taken seriously in life in general. I mean, really? “lazy/obsessed with money”? I know this may be a stretch for you to grok, but Vanguard has what, 37 subscribers? SOE is a business. They budget development teams based on what profit they bring in, not out of a sense of supporting artwork in the fashion of a Renaissance merchant prince dabbling in art patronage. Given that Vanguard has 37 subscribers (give or take a few tens of thousands), yes, the Vanguard live team is probably one guy, behind the mail server, with a bit of a maniacal twitch in his eye as his Excel spreadsheet keeps crashing because his work machine hasn’t been upgraded since 2003. Because that’s how budgets work.

I’d ask the RIFT devs how much of their game is based on WoW and if they’re happy about this.

I suspect a few designers there are a bit bitter and assuage their sorrows as they roll around in giant tubs of Krugerrands.

I’d ask the WoW devs how much they think the game is suffering because of the talent transfer that’s taking place between WoW and Titan, the unnanounced mmo.

“Yeah, man, why did Blizzard put US in charge of the cash cow for the entire computer gaming industry anyway? I mean, we clearly suck, right? But really, how MUCH is the game suffering because of us? Can we quantify it? Get me a Powerpoint by Thursday.”

I’d ask all mmo devs out there why are they so afraid of sandbox (or hybrid) games like EVE, Earthrise, maybe DarkFall a bit. These are always avoided by the rich companies and picked up only by small, 10 man (max) start-ups.

Because rich companies got that way because they are risk-averse and prone to investments that are reasonably assured. Sandbox games like Eve are most definitely not assured investments.

To the producer of W40K: Do you understand why a two faction system doesn’t work in MMOs with faction based PvP? You’re not really going down the two faction route are you?

It’s almost like you have a rant about WoW PvP in the form of a question! I’d say that very few people know about WH40K PvP at this point, including the people working on it.

Mark Jacobs and Paul Barnett: What really happened with the development of WAR and it being released in such a terrible state with major content and features dropped prior to launch? Was it publisher pressure to get it out early? Did you run out of money? Did you actually think the game was release ready?

“Publisher pressure” is almost always the correct response to literally every question. “Why is my wife cheating on me?” “Publisher pressure, dude.” However the publisher is not always the bad guy. Sometimes the publisher kicks things out the door after a team misses one milestone after the other and finally just says “look, we need to start making money on this thing, get it launched by next Thursday or you’re all fired.” Not that I have any inside scoop on if that happened or didn’t with WAR, but as you noted, features dropped prior to launch is an excellent sign that some producer is taking a scimitar to the production schedule to get the damn thing out already. Why? Publisher pressure, dude. Sorry about your marriage.

Scott Hartsman: After a a period of the game being live and understanding how it’s really working with a population of real players, if you could take just one element of Rift’s game mechanics, systems or features right back to the drawing board and redo it from scratch what would it be?

“SCOTT JENNINGS! You’re next on IF I WAS SCOTT HARTSMAN! Your answer?”

I’ll take “managing world events” for a dollar, Bob!

If you could change the way you decided to incorporate PvP into LotRO would you do it differently?

The tyranny of the license enters into play here. LotRO doesn’t really work if you have hot Rohirrim-on-Gondor faction action. And there’s not really the option to play as Skurgrim the Uruk-hai in LotRO save how they implemented it. PvP in LotRO is necessarily an afterthought because you can only play one faction in LotRO. Given that I think they did fairly well.

T20: What on earth were you thinking?


I would ask SOE, what was the real reason behind NGE/CU.

This is a good question!

Or Why they do they hate their customers?

Or Why don’t they listen to their customers?

These are not good questions!

Square-Enix: WTF where you thinking when you released FFXIV? Are you lazy? Or was it dishonor that was driving you to charge me nearly $90 for a game not fit for beta?

Dishonor? Really? DISHONOR?


There is only one honorable response to a bungled MMO launch.


WoW: why won’t you get over yourselves and give your players the appearance tab they’ve so desperately wanted for 6 years?

I… I don’t even know what you’re on about here. Are you talking about character customization? Displaying different look and feel in a game at the high end driven by gear acquisition? And “why won’t you get over yourselves” is probably not the best way to ask these things in a way to figure out what you mean!

Rift: given that you’re trying to position yourself as primary competition to WoW, and are directly informed by experience from EQ2, why on Earth would neglect a feature like the appearance tab, seeing as its so much-requested in the former and such an integral part of the play experience of the latter? As a supposed next-gen MMORPG, how do you excuse lacking a basic feature common throughout the overall genre?

I’m sensing a theme here.

To whoever is managing UO these days: With the success of the EQ progression server, why aren’t you trying something similar? Can I please play ANY version of your game before someone came up with the brilliant idea to put ninjas into a fantasy MMO?

Oh come on, ninjas are awesome. Really, if you disagree, you are without honor and see the above pic. OK, the serious answer to this question: because making a “old rules” ruleset server is not a trivial task – you have to first have a copy of the server at the point you’re discussing (which in a game of UO’s age could be a challenge), and then you have to fork the code base off and have it exist in its own little “old rules” world and still support every client permutation out there (and if not mistaken, UO has several, many of which did not exist during “old rules” time”) in such a way that technical support isn’t overwhelmed with MY CLIENT CANNOT CONNECT TO YOUR NINJAFREE GAME AND WHERE IS YOUR GODDAMN APPEARANCE TAB. That being said, it’d be a good idea, and I had thought Mythic had said it was under serious consideration, which generally translates to “is the publisher going to pay us to do this? please?”

Besides ArenaNet and CCP, why not once have you all devs (from the other companies) think outside of the box and try to make something fresh and fun instead of using the same old recipe over and over and fail?

“Damn it, I KNEW we were doing something wrong…. we keep using the same old recipe and we fail! Why didn’t we think about making something FUN? I knew we forgot something I KNEW IT.” “It was the appearance tab, wasn’t it.” “Stay away from my wife.” “I dunno man, publisher pressure….” “I MEAN IT.”

I would ask Carrie Gouskos and Jeff Hickman why did they cut the throat of the WAR PVE game and left it to bleed out in a alley…

Well, yes, you would. Did I mention that I hated you? Yes. You. Don’t try to hide behind that other guy who I also hate. Oh, wait, you’re still talking.

…I would also ask them how they sleep at night, and if they think that any other development house would touch them after their complete and utter betrayal of the gaming community.

You know you’re everything, literally, I hate about the MMO community and its total and complete lack of any perspective whatsoever, right? You are aware of this? OK? You’re good with it? Cool.

You must be dreaming. Devs will never give a straight answer. They have all be imprinted with a marketing priorites and thus will never tell the truth.

It’s true. Human Resources runs the imprinting program. *beep*

“And Now, A Word From The Premier Of The Galactic Senate” “fofofofofofofofo”

RockPaperShotgun with a fascinating interview with The Mittani, terror of Eve, laird of Goonswarm, and currently politicking it up in Iceland.

One of the reasons we make jokes about Eve being a bad game, or a spreadsheet or what have you, is that it lacks immersion. It’s just talking space ships. And most of the time you’re so zoomed out because of the lag that you don’t even see your space ship. It’s just a little bracket fighting another bunch of brackets, and the overview is a spreadsheet, and then your targeting reticule’s a bracket.

I would like Eve to be a better game. Eve has always been a vision, an idea of a universe, that’s always been poorly realised through the medium of a game client. I almost never log on to Eve Online itself because I run a spy network. For me, Eve Online is talking to people in a Jabber client.

You Dare Challenge Your Sovereign Lord With Puny Concepts Like Trademarks?

Richard Garriott on EA’s moves to quash Ultima remakes and probable franchise reboot:

I can’t control EA plans for the word Ultima. But we all know that only my team can create the true heir to my previous work.

So all you other people who’ve worked on Ultima Online better step the hell OFF. (Unless you were working on putting him in Lineage or outer space, pretty sure all that’s been cancelled.)

Massive Cutbacks At SOE: Three Studios Closed, Huge Layoffs Elsewhere

The axe fell at the house Firiona Vie built today, as rum0rs have spread (many of which I can confirm anecdotally) that their Seattle studio (where the perpetually delayed The Agency title was in development) as well as their recently acquired collectible card gaming studios in Tuscon and Denver, have all been shuttered. Half of the Austin studio (which had just shipped DC Universe) and many employees at SOE’s headquarters in San Diego are said to have been let go as well.

My condolences for everyone looking for work in what are still lean times for the gaming industry.

Edit: Confirmation from SOE; 205 let go, The Agency cancelled.

EA Strikes Back At People Remaking A Twenty-Six Year Old Game They Gave Away Fourteen Years Ago

All shall bow before the virtue of Justice!

The various Ultima 4 (yes, the one made in 1985, before many of you were born) remakes floating around the web were hit by EA cease and desist letters this week despite EA, um, giving the game away for free.

The fact that EA seems to have no problem with people downloading the 1984 vintage version, yet cracking down on rewrites that people can, you know, actually run as a web based app may well be related to Paul Barnett’s subtly hinting (note: for Barnett, this is actually considered subtlety) at a Facebook-hosted reboot of the Ultima franchise.

World Of Canada Declares War On World Of Warcraft, Users Caught In Very, Very Slow Crossfire

As part of Rogers (Canada’s largest cable ISP) essentially declaring war on Bittorrent, Canadian World of Warcraft players discovered they weren’t immune, as it was discovered this weekend through an audit by Canada’s telecom regulator that Rogers classified the game they were playing as a bandwidth Weapon of Mass Consumption.

Thank you for your letters of February 23rd and 25th, 2011 regarding the impact of Rogers Internet traffic management practices (ITMP) on the interactive game called World of Warcraft.

Our tests have determined that there is a problem with our traffic management equipment that can interfere with World of Warcraft. We have been in contact with the game manufacturer and we have been working with our equipment supplier to overcome this problem.

We recently introduced a software modification to solve the problems our customers are experiencing with World of Warcraft. However, there have been recent changes to the game, which has created new problems. A second software modification to address these new issues will not be ready until June.

The problem, in a nutshell, is twofold.

First, Blizzard launched with a peer-to-peer update system using Bittorrent. While many people complained about this at the time (including myself, loudly), over the years Blizzard has refined their downloader/the Internet has caught up with the need to keep millions of WoW clients updated/people just accepted the fact that patch day downloads were awful. Eventually third party vendors such as Pando other MMOs (especially free to play ones) such as Lord of the Rings Online moved to peer-to-peer updating as well.  However, to ISPs examining traffic, Blizzard’s users were using a Bittorrent client. Because… well, they were!

Second, with the introduction of Cataclysm, Blizzard refined their peer-to-peer downloading system to the point that it was embedded within the client itself, allowing users to play while new content was being streamed to them. This in and of itself wasn’t new, but it meant that WoW players could potentially be running a peer-to-peer application – called World of Warcraft – the entire time they’re playing WoW. Which resulted in Rogers throttling ALL traffic used by the World of Warcraft client, to the point that Rogers customers were being advised in the WoW forums to use a VPN tunnel just so they can play the game.

Of course, you would think that ISPs would be aware that World of Warcraft is, by dint of being one of the if not the most popular internet online game, something that users might be a bit sensitive regarding. Then again, given that Rogers also regularly breaks the internet’s most popular VoIP client because apparently people have the temerity to actually use it, maybe they just don’t care.

So much for that stereotype of Canadians being well-mannered and civil, eh?